The local disabled community is the latest interest group to cry foul over Government’s recent imposition of a two per cent National Social Responsibility Levy, after the dreaded tax was slapped on a 40-foot container of imported items, including more than 200 wheelchairs and other gifts.
President of the Barbados Council for the Disabled (BCD) Maria Holder-Small this afternoon expressed “shock”, not only that the affected items were intended for free distribution by her non-profit umbrella organization, but also that they had attracted the tax, which came into effect on September 1, even though the items had been in the Barbados Port since August.
“I didn’t expect that charge for us. That is one that I must say I was pretty shocked at,” Holder-Small revealed during a ceremony to officially hand over the donated wheelchairs and other equipment at the Christ Church District Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Earlier in the day, BCD had started handing out the equipment to those in need.
However, Holder-Small revealed to members of the media that the entire process of clearing the container, which arrived here on August 4 and included 290 wheelchairs, ended up being something of an ordeal.
In fact, she said final clearance of the items occurred over a month later on September 6.
“It was not as smooth a process as I thought it would have been, knowing the contents of the container,” the spokeswoman for the local disabled community said.
“I thought it would have been a much seamless transition to get that container on our premises,” she emphasized, explaining that BCD staff had to make, “many, many calls to chase the ministries to see what we could have waived”.
Holder-Small said eventually a waiver of the Value Added Tax, which had also been applied to the shipment, was granted by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler.
However, to her grouping’s dismay, she said, “we were also hit with the two per cent [National Social Responsibility Levy] the very next day, even though the container was in before [the two per cent tax officially came into effect].
It was at that point that another appeal was made for relief, but it fell on deaf ears.
“When we contacted them [Government officials], we were told that there were no exemptions being given,” the BCD spokeswoman said, adding that even though her organization was not made to pay the 17.5 per cent VAT, the amount of time spent waiting for that waiver to be approved had proven costly.
Holder-Small explained that “all the time, containers were at the shippers the fees were adding up.
“So we had to meet a lot of fees that we wish we could have avoided with the container,” she said, pointing out that there were terminal handling charges for the container and demurrage for time spent in clearing the items.
“That is something I would like to speak to the higher authorities that be [about],” Holder-Small said, arguing that her organization was about helping the people of Barbados.
“It’s not just for our organization . . . It is for the whole of the island,” she stressed, emphasizing that there was a “steady stream” of people turning up this morning requesting equipment, with some even wanting to collect chairs for other people.
However, while the BCD hopes for an eventual refund for what it sees as an incorrectly charged two per cent levy, its problems would not end there because the organization faces challenges in storing the wheelchairs, crutches, seat pads and other associated items.
“We still have storage [problems] on our premises. We don’t have that much space,” she said, explaining that her organization, which only had enough outdoor space to accommodate a 20-foot container, could only store half of the supplies received. She added that they had only been given permission by the Town & Country Planning Department to house the 20-ft container there for three months.
In the interim, one local business owner has come to the organization’s rescue by allowing the remainder of the supplies to be stored in his parking lot in a second 20-foot container.
Just last week, local manufacturers made an impassioned appeal to Government to review the National Stabilization Levy, which was announced by Sinckler in his August 16 Budget.
The manufacturers, who are exempted from paying the two per cent on imported raw materials, argued that their refined products, which are to be used by other local manufacturers, should not attract the two per cent tax.
Otherwise they said there would be no local incentive to purchase their products.